The Geneva Convention was created to take care of prisoners of war. Signatory states to the Geneva Convention are meant to rigorously carry out the stated intent of the Convention. However, in World War Two there were many examples of prisoners of war being treated in a manner outside of the ‘rules’ of the Geneva Convention. This ranged from the masses of POW’s captured by both the Germans and the Russians on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945 to the war in the Far East where the treatment of Allied POW’s by the Japanese has gone down in infamy. In general the Geneva Convention was better maintained in the west but specific examples of it breaking down did occur – such as at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge and when Hitler introduced his Commando Order that led to captured commandos being shot as happened in the aftermath of the Cockleshell Raid.


What does the Geneva Convention set out?


“1) This Convention sets out the rules, internationally agreed, regarding the rights and treatment of prisoners of war during captivity. It applies equally to our servicemen who are captured and to enemy servicemen who are taken prisoner by our forces. The more important requirements are set out below.


2) Members of the regular armed forces are not the only persons entitled on capture to be treated as prisoners of war. Members of the militia, volunteer corps, civilians holding military identity cards, seamen holding identity cards issued by their governments and under certain conditions members of the resistance movements in occupied territories are also entitled to be so treated. In some cases of doubt, a captured person must be given the benefit of the doubt and treated initially as a prisoner of war.


3) All prisoners are entitled to humane and respectful treatment and must be protected from acts of violence, intimidation, insults, and public curiosity. Reprisals against them are forbidden.


4) The Convention required that when a serviceman is taken prisoner he shall supply his captors with his name, rank and date of birth and shall produce to them his identity card issued under the provisions of Article 17 of the Prisoner of War Convention (in the case of British forces this is the F/Ident/189). No other information is required to be given and the captors are forbidden to demand it or to threaten a prisoner who refuses to supply it.


5) Prisoners of war must be left in possession of their personal effects including metal helmets, gas masks, identity documents, clothing, articles for feeding, badges of rank and decorations. Arms, military equipment (other than the above) and military documents may be taken away, but money and valuables may only be taken by order of an officer who must give a receipt in proper form.


6) After capture prisoners are to be evacuated from the fighting zone as quickly as possible. During this period they must be given sufficient food and water (and clothing if necessary) and the general arrangements for their accommodation and transport should be substantially the same as for the forces which capture them. Similarly sick and wounded prisoners are to be evacuated through medical channels and looked after as far as possible by captured military personnel of their own nationality.


7) The Convention requires that there shall be in every POW camp a copy of the Convention in the prisoner’s own language. All prisoners must study this and make every effort to obtain their rights under it. The ‘prisoners representative’ or ‘camp leader’ in the camp will given any help he can to prisoners seeking their rights under the Convention.


8) Any prisoner who considers he is being treated incorrectly, in accordance with the Convention, may complain to the camp authorities. A prisoner making a complaint may not be punished even if it appears to the camp authorities that the complaint is frivolous. If a grievance is not redressed a further complain may be made directly or through the prisoner’s representative to the delegate of the Protecting Power who may be written to or seen personally when visiting the camp. It is his duty to protect the prisoners.


9) If a prisoner of war attempts to escape, arms may only be used against him to prevent his escape as an extreme measure and after a warning has been given.


10) If an escaping prisoner, with the sole intention of facilitating his escape, commits and offence which does not entail violence such as, for example, an offence against private property, theft without intention of self-enrichment, the drawing up and use of false papers, or the wearing of civilian clothing, he may, on re-capture, only be dealt with summarily. An escaping prisoner whether in disguise or not must always carry a means of identity to prove his status of prisoner of war if he is re-captured.